Taking Advantage of Assets at Hand

Foundations and charities are helping individuals, communities and businesses install solar panels and battery systems in Puerto Rico, with dual goals: to move the island toward renewable energy and allow small towns to be less dependent on the energy grid in case of another disaster. Greg Allen/NPR

Entrepreneurship and innovation are synonymous in many ways, starting with the ability to “think outside the box”. It’s even more inspiring when people put their creative efforts toward helping communities and the environment. Considering solar power in a Caribbean island environment may not seem like such a novel idea, but garnering private sector support for progress so the government can regroup after a natural disaster is a good example of leadership.

Puerto Rico Harnesses The Power Of The Sun For A Renewable Energy Future

Mameyes is a small community of about 1,000 people high in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. But in its own way, it is one of the leaders of Puerto Rico’s energy future.

Francisco Valentin grew up in Mameyes, where he runs a small store. Even before Maria he had big ambitions for his town. After Maria, he knew he wanted his community to run on solar power. And with the help of foundations, charities and the University of Puerto Rico — not the government — he has done that, converting the town’s school, health clinic and several other buildings.

The move to solar was important, Valentin says, because after Maria it took months before power was restored to the area. This makes Mameyes self-sufficient and able to respond to residents’ needs in future disasters. “The whole school is fully solar energy” and can serve as a shelter, he says.

With so much sunlight on tap, solar power has begun to boom in Puerto Rico since the hurricane. Across the island, individuals, communities and businesses are installing solar panels and battery systems. At the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico, Javier Rivera is working on solar systems with 50 mostly rural, underserved communities. His goal is to wire 250 communities for solar over the next few years.

Rivera says that especially after the hurricane, people realized they couldn’t depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. “Many people [didn’t] trust in the PREPA system before the hurricane. It’s not a secret,” he says. “People start to think about trying to find a solution, a long-term solution. And the sun is one of them.”

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Closer To An Alternative For Plastic Packaging

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Yale e360, with news like this, titles it carefully:

Scientists Say They Have Found a Viable Replacement for Petroleum-Based Plastic

Scientists at Ohio State University say they have developed a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastic food packaging by using natural tree-based rubber. According to the researchers, the new biodegradable material holds promise for fighting the world’s growing plastic pollution problem, as well as for helping curb our reliance on fossil fuels.

The original source, with slightly more flowery language, titles it as if packaging can be friendly to the environment. The way we use packaging, not so. But we will take what we can get at this point:

Study shows potential for Earth-friendly plastic replacement

New biodegradable ‘plastic’ is tough, flexible

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The new bioplastic and rubber blend devised by Ohio State researchers proved much more durable than the bioplastic on its own

The quest to keep plastic out of landfills and simultaneously satisfy the needs of the food industry is filled with obstacles.

A biodegradable replacement for petroleum-based products has to meet all sorts of standards and, so far, attempts at viable replacements from renewable sources have faced limited success due to processing and economic constraints. Among the obstacles, products to date have been too brittle for food packaging. Continue reading

Keeping Track Of Renewables

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Despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage, Arizona gets only six per cent of its electricity from solar. Photograph by Joshua Lott / Bloomberg / Getty

Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, making her fifth appearance since early 2016 in our pages, including this recent item that I particularly favored, for the article below that helps us understand what is happening with renewable energy these days in the USA. It is easy to forget, amidst all the noise of a federal government working to deregulate and reduce environmental protection, that important work continues:

The Battle for Solar Energy in the Country’s Sunniest State

In late September, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that receives donations from fossil-fuel companies, published a blog post titled “California Billionaire’s Renewable Energy Initiative Makes Arizona Ballot.” The billionaire in question was Tom Steyer, whose year-long effort to pass Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate fifty per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, or A.P.S. The blog post lamented a failed lawsuit filed by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a political-action committee funded by A.P.S.’s parent company, to keep Prop 127 off the ballot, and quoted several opponents who believed the measure, now up for a vote in November, would be a costly mistake. “Prop 127 would tie Arizona’s future to technologies that do not deliver baseload electricity,” Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative, said, “and are arguably worse for the environment as a whole than the dependable technologies we already have.” The photograph accompanying the post depicted a wind-turbine farm, and, in the foreground, a dead bald eagle.

Arizona is the sunniest state in the country, with more than three hundred bluebird days per year. It is also projected to endure an additional month of hundred-degree days in the coming decades owing to climate change. Yet, despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage—to the point that, as an A.P.S. director told me, it now frequently outbids fossil fuels, even natural gas—in 2017, Arizona generated only six per cent of its electricity from solar, according to the ballot initiative’s advocates. The state currently requires utilities to generate eight per cent of their power from sources like solar and wind, scaling up to fifteen per cent by 2025. Natural gas, the largest source of Arizona’s net electricity generation, is imported from out of state. “Our most abundant resource in Arizona is our sunshine,” D. J. Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the Phoenix-based political-action committee that Steyer is funding, said. “We need a nationwide transition to renewables. One of the first places we should be doing it is where it’s most efficient and cost-effective, and that’s here.” Continue reading

Scotland, Land Of Regret-Reducing Renewable Resources

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Scottish Power’s Whitelee windfarm on Eaglesham moor, just south of Glasgow. Photograph: Global Warming Images/REX

My daily contribution to this platform is a habit vaguely in the tradition of meditation–finding something each day that is worthy of gratitude, or otherwise worthy of sharing with friends, family, and anyone else who cares to listen. Because of the good fortune I have had to visit and work in many amazing places, it is important to me to never regret the places where I still have not been. Scotland is one of those places that, if I were a regretter, I would be feeling it now. I owe that place a visit (even if the company name sounds like a Bond villain):

Scottish Power shifts to 100% wind generation after £700m Drax sale

Big six energy firm drops fossil fuels for generation and say cheap green energy is the future

Scottish Power has ditched fossil fuels for electricity generation and switched to 100% wind power, by selling off its last remaining gas power stations to Drax for more than £700m.

Iberdrola, Scottish Power’s Spanish parent company, said the move was part of its strategy to tackle climate change and would free it up to invest in renewables and power grids in the UK.

The deal also marks a significant expansion and diversification for Drax, whose main business is a coal- and biomass-fired power station in North Yorkshire. Continue reading

The Aha Moment Explaining One Challenge To Recycling

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Color-coordinated waste baskets for waste recycling in New York City. Credit Ramin Talaie/Corbis, via Getty Images

Thanks for this interview full of incisive interview quetions by David Bornstein, who is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. Thanks to Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, for the explanatory answers in the interview that follows:

The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling

Some of the biggest recycling operations are owned by landfill companies whose profits improve when recycling doesn’t work well.

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Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America. Credit Shelly Mosman/Recycle Across America

In the past few years, one of the core pillars of the environmental movement — recycling — has fallen on hard times. News dispatches reveal hundreds of cities and counties scaling back their recycling programs because of the high costs associated with processing recyclables and the lack of demand for the materials. A new conventional wisdom is gaining ground suggesting that recycling may not be worth the effort.

But is that true? And has recycling ever gotten a fair shake? After decades, less than a third of municipal solid waste is recycled — and much of that is contaminated with garbage, which diminishes or destroys its value. Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day, are we really ready to admit defeat and return to the “Mad Men”-era ethos of the “throwaway society”?

There may be another way. For most of the past decade, Recycle Across America, a nonprofit organization I covered in this column six years ago, has been demonstrating that it’s quite possible to get people to recycle properly, just as it’s possible to get most people to wear seatbelts, quit smoking and stop driving drunk. But the recycling industry has never taken the logical steps needed to create a successful societywide recycling habit — and today it may not be in the economic interest of some of the big recycling companies to build it. Recently, I spoke with Mitch Hedlund, the founder of Recycle Across America, about this dilemma and the possibility that a recycling collapse can be avoided. Continue reading

Environmentalism, It’s Just Good Business

Solar panels at the Googleplex, headquarters of Google in Mountain View, Calif. Its data centers worldwide will run entirely on renewable energy by the end of this year, the technology giant announced in December. Credit Smith Collection/Gado, via Getty Images

Although the current administration may be cloaking themselves in a fog of denial, we’re happy to read that much of corporate America is staying the course of their own emissions goals.

Nearly half of the Fortune 500 biggest companies in the United States have now set targets to shrink their carbon footprints, according to a report published Tuesday by environmental organizations that monitor corporate emissions pledges. Twenty-five more companies adopted climate targets over the last two years, the groups said.

Almost two dozen companies, including Google, Walmart and Bank of America, have pledged to power their operations with 100 percent renewable energy, with varying deadlines, compared with just a handful in 2015. Google’s data centers worldwide will run entirely on renewable energy by the end of this year, the technology giant announced in December.

“We believe that climate change is real, and it’s a severe crisis,” said Gary Demasi, who directs Google’s energy strategy. “We’re not deviating from our goals.” Continue reading

Big USA Cities & Potential For Solar

980x.pngThanks to EcoWatch for this note about the Google site that helps residents of major cities in the USA think more clearly about solar as an option:

It just got a whole lot easier to decide whether or not to get solar panels for your roof. Google’s Project Sunroof site will help you locate your home, see how much sun it gets on average and what you could save if you purchased panels. Continue reading

You Had Us At Non-Toxic

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Photo: Organic mega-flow battery in the Harvard SEAS lab. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Thanks to Anthropocene:

This non-toxic battery lasts a decade, could be renewable energy’s missing piece

by Prachi Patel

As more and more people install solar panels, the need to store solar power is growing. Batteries that store sun-generated electricity are key for houses to have power at night or when it’s cloudy. But today’s battery technologies are riddled with issues such as high cost, toxicity, and short life. Continue reading

Solar Energy Benefits for All

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All photos from: Boston University Bostonia

It seems obvious that investing in renewable solar energy saves money for those who install photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes. However, what might not be so obvious is that PV systems also reduce electricity prices for all those with no solar panels, as professor Robert Kaufmann from Boston University discovered. His research revealed that the approximately 40,000  households and community groups with solar panels in Massachusetts reduce electricity prices for all of the three million electricity ratepayers in the state, including those with no solar panels.

“Until now, people have focused on how much was being saved by those who owned PV,” says Kaufmann. “What this analysis quantified was that it actually generates savings for everybody.”

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Rhode Island’s Offshore Wind Turbines Completed

One of five turbines that make up the Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the United States, off the Rhode Island coast. Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Less than a month ago we shared the story in WIRED about the Block Island Deepwater Wind farm, and now, construction is finished! That may seem like trivial news to Europeans with coastline who have been enjoying offshore wind power for years now, but given that this is the first project of its kind in the US, it’s an exciting sign of progress to come in renewables for a nation with one of the largest carbon footprints. Justin Gillis reports for the New York Times:

BLOCK ISLAND, R.I. — The towering machines stand a few miles from shore, in a precise line across the seafloor, as rigid in the ocean breeze as sailors reporting for duty.

The blades are locked in place for now, but sometime in October, they will be turned loose to capture the power of the wind. And then, after weeks of testing and fine-tuning, America’s first offshore wind farm will begin pumping power into the New England electric grid.

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A Portable Power Plant

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Source: Enomad.com

I believe I can confidently say that all of us at some point during a nature outing have run out of battery power on our cell phone or camera just at the moment we were about to capture a magnificent shot of a cool animal or a picturesque landscape. There are plenty of portable battery chargers that can spare us from those despairing occurrences, but what about one that uses a renewable energy source to charge? I bet you’re guessing it’s solar powered, but that would be too ordinary for the developers at Enomad. They have created a portable hydroelectric generator called Estream that can fit easily into a travel pack. The tube-like device has three turbines which rotate when placed or dragged underwater and the energy created from the rotating turbines gets stored in the battery attached. The battery takes about 4.5 hours to charge, and can power up a maximum of three smartphones, GoPros, or even tablet PCs.

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Concentrating Solar with Mirrors and Molten Salt

A tower of salt, surrounded by sunlight-sensing and -reflecting mirrors. Photo © SolarReserve

Two months ago we posted about non-photovoltaic solar power via a story from Scientific American, and this week they’re exploring the subject again, this time in the desert of Nevada with the first utility-scale “concentrating solar” plant that can provide electricity even at night. Concentrating solar involves storing heat from the sun rather than converting light into electricity, and apparently molten sodium and potassium nitrates can do this very effectively. Knvul Sheikh reports:

Deep in the Nevada desert, halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, a lone white tower stands 195 meters tall, gleaming like a beacon. It is surrounded by more than 10,000 billboard-size mirrors focusing the sun’s rays on its tip. The Crescent Dunes “concentrating solar power” plant looks like some advanced communication device for aliens. But the facility’s innovation lies in the fact that it can store electricity and make it available on demand any time—day or night.

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South Australia’s Renewable Energy

Wind turbines at the Snowtown Facility.

Any story regarding the expansion and encouragement of renewables to promote sustainable development is a good story in our book, and we’re impressed by the Clean Energy Council policy manager’s statement, “If South Australia was a nation, it would be second only to Denmark [in renewables].” South Australia is a state in the middle of the southern coast of the country, about a hundred square miles larger than the US state of Texas, so it’s great to hear that such a large area relies so much on innovation. Kathy Marks reports for the Guardian:

In a state that leads the country – in fact, much of the world – in producing electricity from renewable sources, Snowtown is wind central. The first stage of a $660m, 270-megawatt farm, with 47 turbines, opened in 2008, 5km west of the town; the second, adding another 90 turbines, came on stream in 2014.

Developed by New Zealand’s Trustpower, South Australia’s biggest wind facility – and Australia’s second biggest – created hundreds of construction jobs and 21 permanent positions.

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Shiny, Pretty Things

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We have not eliminated plastic entirely at our properties, but we have been thinking about it for the last few years and taking action every chance we get. How to make the best of an otherwise horror show of plastic, according to this post on Surfrider Foundation’s blog:

The reality of plastic pollution is that it is happening in every home, office, school and community. It’s plaguing our country. Plastic creates toxic pollution at just about every stage of its existence, from manufacture, to use, to disposal. Considering the facts, it’s no surprise that it’s the most prevalent type of marine litter worldwide.

The extent of plastic use is mind-boggling.

Take plastic bags for instance. Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year. That’s 360 bags for every man, woman and child in the United States. And, less than five percent of these bags are recycled. Continue reading

The Sense in Sustainability

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Today we went to  a 68 acre fish farm in Thrissur called ‘Haya Poya’. They were using a traditional box system (the local name is petty para) to collect fish and manage the water level. We went to learn about implementing aquaculture at Kayal Villa, a newer property.

By using this traditional method, they do not have to introduce new varieties of fish in order to farm. They do this mainly because it is less costly to collect the fish naturally than to artificially introduce fish. Also, since it is all local varieties, it limits the possibility of messing up the natural ecosystem with foreign invasive species.

During our ride home, the agronomist, Mr. Deyal, and I continued the conversation about doing what’s ecologically beneficial is actually easier and more cost-efficient. He said

“Only an ecologically viable system will be economically viable. When we fight against the environment, the environment will go against us and we will have to invest more money to protect against it.”

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an oil driller recently. When I asked him what the most challenging thing about his job was, he said ‘going against nature,’ and then proceeded to tell me how rebellious nature was to the oil drilling process and how costly it is. I found it interesting that although their career choices were the antithesis of each other, the conversations I had with them had parallel messages: going against nature is costly.  Continue reading

Coffee in Xandari

Here at Xandari (Alajuela, Costa Rica) everything is ready for coffee’s big return. The resort’s land was once dedicated to growing and harvesting the finest estate coffee this country offers (you can visit the Doka Estate, to which Xandari’s land once belonged, in one of our guests’ favorite day tours), but for the last 18 years more attention was given to the organic vegetables, orchards and gardens that now dot the verdant grounds. Plans are in motion, however, to bring the crop back to this area long celebrated for the quality of its coffee.

The ground is tilled:

Seth in the soon-to-be coffee field.

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Solar’s Messy Compromises

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Photograph: Isaac Brekken/Washington Post

BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Photograph: Isaac Brekken/Washington Post

It’s not easy being green.  Even seeming no-brainers like this solar initiative requires complicated tradeoffs between one environmental objective and another:

…The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will send that power across California, the Golden State, early this year, becoming the largest solar plant in the world to concentrate the sun’s rays to produce electricity. Such utility-sized solar plants are beginning to appear across the US, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the south-west and California, says the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. The scale of the largest plants is difficult to imagine in the eastern part of the country, where a relative lack of available open land and unobstructed sunlight have limited solar facilities to perhaps a tenth the size of the West’s plants. In the west, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible…

…But even as the largest plants are helping utilities meet state requirements for renewable energy, the appetite for them may be waning, say experts. The next phase of solar development – especially in the east – may feature smaller projects located closer to cities. Environmental groups want regulators to look at sites such as landfills and industrial zones before allowing construction in largely undisturbed environments such as deserts. Continue reading

What Should We Expect of Solar?

I was pleased to see our fellow contributors give voice to the promising outlook of solar energy in a recent post. There is no doubt that this technology will be a game-changer for utilities in the coming century, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Last month, I was thrilled to start my first full-time position at SunPower Corporation, one of the largest solar cell manufacturers in the United States. Tempering that excitement was the knowledge that, at least for the short term, I wouldn’t be traveling to India to work with Crist and some of his wonderful staff. But let’s back solar.

This is every solar installer’s dream: a perfectly tilted, south-facing, non-shaded, sun-bathed roof.

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The Wind Power Debate Gets More Interesting

An offshore wind turbine, part of the London Array wind farm site, located in the outer Thames Estuary, about 70 miles east of London. Image: phault via flickr

An article in Inside Science (click the image above to go to the article) discusses new research demonstrating that wind power might be able to generate all the world’s electricity needs without large atmospheric effects:

There is enough energy for people to reap from the wind to meet all of the world’s power demands without radically altering the planet’s climate, according to two independent teams of scientists.

Wind power is often touted as environmentally friendly, generating no pollutants. It is an increasingly popular source of renewable energy, with the United States aiming to produce 20 percent of its electricity by wind power by 2030. Still, there have been questions as to how much energy wind power can supply the world, and how green it actually is, given how it pulls energy from the atmosphere. Continue reading

Hot, Fresh Data

 

 

Thanks to one of our favorite informers, Felicity Barringer, whose past stories we have occasionally riffed on, for this piece in today’s Dot Earth section of the New York Times website (click the graph above to go to the source, and yes it counts as a non-subscriber article read):

From California to New Jersey, the summer sun was hot this year — and so was the solar industry. While the business of solar energy is still small enough and young enough to record firsts at the fearsome pace of a toddler, the milestones are getting more substantial. Continue reading